WASHINGTON (AP) — An online conspiracy theory dubbed “pizzagate” ended Thursday with real-world consequences when a North Carolina man was sentenced to prison for arming himself with an assault rifle, traveling to the nation’s capital and firing his weapon inside a neighborhood pizza restaurant.
Edgar Maddison Welch’s “ill-conceived plot” last year did “actual damage to the lives of real people,” a judge said before sentencing him to four years in prison.
Judge Ketanji B. Jackson said she’d never seen a case like Welch’s, and she gave him a punishment on the upper end of guidelines, in part to send a message to others. If Welch believed an internet conspiracy theory that children were being harmed at the restaurant, he should have notified law enforcement, not attempted to take the law into his own hands, the judge said during Thursday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Jackson said it was “sheer luck” that no one was physically injured when Welch entered Washington’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant on Dec. 4 armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and a revolver. He was there just about a month after the election of President Donald Trump to investigate unfounded internet rumors about prominent Democrats harboring child sex slaves at the restaurant.
As diners and staff fled, leaving half-eaten pizza and cups of soda, Welch went through the restaurant. At one point, he fired his AR-15 at a locked closet, but he discovered there were no children being held in the restaurant and surrendered peacefully.
Welch’s sentence was just below the 4 ½ years prosecutors sought and above the 1 ½ years Welch’s attorney asked for.
During the hearing, the 29-year-old Welch spoke briefly to apologize, saying he realized that his words “cannot undo or change what already happened.” In a letter filed with the court, he wrote that he is “truly sorry for endangering the safety of any and all bystanders who were present that day,” but he didn’t talk about the conspiracy theory that…